Forgiving Each Other Matthew 18:15-35

“Love and Forgiveness”                                 January 23, 2023                                               Matthew 18:15-35

It’s so easy to read 15-21 only as what to with unrepentant believers—but in context, we see Jesus’ bigger point is about love and forgiveness

  • You have to love that believer enough to warn him he’s going down the wrong path
  • And you have to always keep an attitude of forgiveness—a desire to restore your brother more than correct him

Skipping to the end first (parable of the unforgiving servant given in reply to Peter’s question)

  • How often will my brother sin against me and I forgive him?
  • Jesus answers 77 times –indicating a number that never ends, the perfect number twice
  1. Thinking about Forgiveness: 

Forgiveness implies sin

  • Our sinful condition
  • Corruption of the will

Why is Jesus so focused on forgiveness?

  • It’s not just Jesus—the whole Bible is focused on forgiveness
  • Because forgiveness is at the center of the gospel
    • It is the doctrine of salvation which makes the gospel good news for sinners
    • Hand and hand with Justification—
      • which Calvin called the hinge upon which everything turns
      • And Luther said justification is the doctrine upon which the Church either stands or falls
  • So, What is justification? WSC 33
    • A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he forgives all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.[1]
    • Forgiveness, Acceptance, and Imputation
      • Forgiveness—we deserve death, but God gives us life in Jesus
        • Rom 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
      • Accepted—we are welcomed into God’s presence
        • Rom. 5:1-2  Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
      • Imputed—Jesus’ perfect righteousness is transferred to our accounts and our sin is given to him
        • 1 Cor. 5:21  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
  • It all begins with God forgiving our sin
  1.  The Centrality of Forgiveness

The reason forgiveness is central is because we’re sinners

  • It’s almost as if Jesus understands the reason relationships break down is because one person does something that offends the other, and the other person won’t forgive and reconcile the relationship
    • So there’s sin by the first person
    • And the second person responds to sin, by sinning back in not forgiving
    • It’s an oversimplification, but it makes the point
  • Understand something at the outset:  we can’t address every nuance of all the relationships in your life, or even in the life of the church in one 40 minute sermon
  • Some principles:
    • Saying you forgive someone and really forgiving someone is different
      • Saying it will at least get you down that road (hopefully)
    • Reconciliation takes time and takes different forms
    • Having an attitude of forgiveness isn’t optional—it is a required mark of the true believer
      • Vv. 34-35  And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
      • It means to desire to forgive, a desire to love your brother and restore relationships
  1. Expecting Sin and Addressing it

So, we should expect sin—but we should also be prepared to address sin

  • If you expect perfection, not only will you be disappointed, but you’ll be setting a terrible standard and typically, you will also be setting aside the gospel
    • Jesus himself said “I didn’t come for the righteous, but for the sinners”
      • Thinking perfection is possible, then you begin to save church for only the righteous
    • Continued forgiveness and continued repentance is the way of the Christian life
      • And to begin with, I don’t mean you forgiving others—not yet—I mean God forgiving you
      • Over and over and over again
      • Martin Luther said “I preach justification every week because they forget it every week”
        • Justification by grace is counter to everything we naturally think and believe
        • Understanding and making grace a part of us has to work its way into your heart before you really get it
          • Sinclair’s example of the brass door knob
        • And then you’ll forget it again and you’ll have to reapply it
          • It’s God’s grace that keeps you coming back when you’ve forgotten
          • And we all forget
          • Octavius Winslow, “There is, then, in every child of God an innate principle of departure.  Notwithstanding the wonders of grace God has wrought for the soul, –though he has elected, called renewed, washed and clothed the believer; yet if God did not check and rein him in, the believer would depart, and depart forever!”[2]
        • God calls us back—to remind us of his grace when we forget him.
    • The point:  expect sin so you can address it, but remember, first, to expect and address your own sin to keep it in check as well
  • Humility Required!
    • The whole chapter is about church life:
      • Look at where the chapter began:  humility like a child

BE Humble—two ways

  • Humility in how you address someone else about their sin
    • You don’t know their situation—seek to hear them
      • Really hear them, too
      • Different than just listening
      • Sometimes I listen long enough just so I can respond…
        • Don’t do that
        • Listen to hear and to sympathize—”For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
        • You’re not their high priest, but you are Jesus’ representative.  They’ll respond better to you pointing them to the cross if you’ve really entered into their situation.
      • It could be there’s extenuating circumstances that change the whole situation
        • What you thought was sin, wasn’t sinful at all
        • But sometimes it is sin—humilty here may just draw a believer back to the fold, whereas undue harshness could drive him away
  • Humility when someone else confronts you
    • Our natural reaction—in our sinful natures, is to become defensive
      • Don’t do that
      • Act according to the new creation and not your sinful nature
    • Again, the important thing is to truly HEAR them
      • Maybe they have a point—
        • Try to understand their point
      • Maybe they have a point, but they are also partially wrong
        • Don’t give up on the conversation—listen well, and respond in humility
        • Understand that this correction from Jesus’ body is from Jesus himself
    • No matter the case—receive it as you would advice from your father or mother
      • It might be hard to hear, but it’s for your good
      • Humbly take it and examine yourself by it
  • Be Orderly

Orderly process—Jesus describes the process we should follow

  • First Personally—you see the problem, you should be the one to address it with the person
    • When Paul addressed the divisions in Corinth he listed slander and gossip as two of the main issues:  For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.
    • Don’t slander, don’t gossip—Go to the source
      • Open the channel of communication
  • Give them a chance to repent—and remember why you’re going
    • To forgive them, to restore the relationship
      • V. 24  10,000 talents
        • Talent=20 years wages, $50k/year times 20 years=$1,000,000 per talent
        • $10 billion
      • There’s nothing God won’t forgive in Jesus
      • And This is a member of Jesus’ church—a member of Jesus
        • “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
        • Don’t withhold forgiveness
          • Don’t make your forgiveness conditional
          • Is there a condition in our liturgy?
            • Pushups maybe?
            • NO—there’s no condition—just repentance
    • In the next two steps, Jesus is telling you to:
      • Establish witnesses
      • Then, Take it to the church—the authority structure He put in place
    • Jesus isn’t saying this is a one, two, three step process
      • We are willing to take time in the work of restoration
        • Multiple conversations
        • Remembering each situation is different, and requires different wisdom
      • Sadly, when a member leaves the church, it’s often the person leaving who won’t have the conversation
    • Bring witnesses
      • You should be able to point to sin others can see and bear witness to
        • Hopefully your brother will hear others if he won’t listen to you
      • On the other hand, the witnesses also provide your brother the opportunity to defend himself
        • If you’ve accused him wrongly, or been unjust in your hearing—then the witnesses can support him in that way
      • Spurgeon, “By calling in worthy arbitrators, you give the offender a fairer opportunity to set himself right. This time, let us hope, the brother will be won. . .  Although it is a very unwise thing to interfere in quarrels, yet from this text it is clear that we should be willing to be one of the two or three who are to assist in settling a difference.”[3]
      • It should all be done with an attitude of grace and forgiveness
    • Then the final step is to take it to the church
      • Jesus doesn’t define church organization here
        • It’s just the assembly of believers
      • The concept of authority is present as the final arbiter and final plea for reclaiming this brother
        • Authority in the local assembly of his fellow believers
        • As it translates to a current situation:
          • If presbyterian, then it would be the Session of the church
          • If congregational it could either be the elders or the whole congregation
          • If episcopal then it would be left up to the pastors and bishops, or other ruling body the denomination has in place
          • In every case the authority is granted by King Jesus to his church to reclaim a brother from his sinful ways
      • If he still won’t listen
        • Then treat him as a Gentile and Tax Collector
          • Gentile—someone outside the covenant community who isn’t interested in joining
          • Tax Collector—they were known for cheating their own people to line their pockets
          • What does treating him like a Gentile and Tax Collector mean for us?
            • Keep him from the Lord’s Table
              • Suspension until repentant and restored
              • Or excommunication is the absolutely final form church censure
        • What is Excommunication?
          • Recognition of their spiritual state by their actions
          • He has been unwilling to repent, continuing in his sin
          • The church rules to keep him from the Lord’s Table as one who has failed to “discern the Lord’s body” in the church and therefore isn’t admitted to the table
  • Church Authority

Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

  • Loosed is weird—“set free” or “released”
    • In this case, Jesus is referring to the power of the gospel which “proclaims liberty to the captives”, Isaiah 61:1
    • The church, by Jesus’ great commission, has the authority to preach the gospel—to preach forgiveness, and being made right with God
  • Modern Christians don’t seem to have a high enough view of the church and we don’t respect its authority as Jesus gave it
    • It’s clear here that the church has significant authority over her members!  At the same time, it’s not absolute authority
    • The reference to “heaven” is a reference to God and his word
    • Which tells us where the church gets her authority
    • The church’s authority is ministerial—ministering  in the name of Jesus, by the word of Jesus
    • As long as what the church decides is according to what God’s word reveals, then she “ is able to prohibit and command in a manner that is backed by God himself. In the context of the attempt to bring back an erring brother or sister, the specific point will be that the church is able to confirm the standard of behaviour to which the erring one is being called to conform once more.”[4] (John Nolland)
      • Meaning the Church may bind a person—admonishing them, calling them stop a particular action, and repent—and ultimately to exclude from fellowship
      • The church can decide individuals shouldn’t be treated as believers, but rather they are revealed to be “gentiles and tax collectors”

The take away:

  1. Sin is dangerous and deadly
    1. Beware of it in your own heart
    1. Be on guard for it in your brother’s heart
      1. Remember, you are your brother’s keeper
      1. In this chapter Jesus told us:
        1. Don’t make other “little ones” to stumble
        1. Chase the lost sheep
  2. Be humble in your sin
    1. Listen to your brother humbly—and remember that you don’t know everything about anything—especially someone else’s life
    1. Be humble because Jesus saved you from your sin—“what do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”  1 Cor. 4:7
      1. Today it might be a brother sinning against you—tomorrow it could just as easily be you
      1. Approach your brother in humility with an eye toward reclaiming him
    1. Be humble in receiving hard words.  Be quick to repent in all things.
  3. Have an attitude of forgiveness—forgiving one another as God in Christ Jesus forgave you
    1. In this text, Jesus gives the hard truth of excommunication, but even then the door is open for the offender to return
    1. And forgiveness is freely given to any who might come in.

Jesus said “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water!”  And that will never change—come to the fountain and invite your brother to come with you.  Amen.

[1] Westminster Assembly, The Westminster Confession of Faith: Edinburgh Edition (Philadelphia: William S. Young, 1851), 399–400.

[2] Winslow, Octavius.  Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul.  Carlisle, Pa:  Banner of Truth Trust, 197.

[3] C. H. Spurgeon, The Gospel of the Kingdom: A Commentary on the Book of Matthew (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1893), 152.

[4] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2005), 748.